Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce, founders of Intel, in 1970
And now for something completely different. A decade ago I published a book on the history of strategy, in which I went beyond my normal comfort zone of military strategy to consider the origins of the idea of strategy in biblical and classical times and also how it had developed in politics and business. Looking back one of my few regrets about the book is that in the business section I ignored the big tech companies that have made such a big difference to our lives – Intel, Apple, Facebook and so on. Later I started to do some research and writing on the topic with a view to a later book but it did not take too long before I realised that I was getting too far beyond my comfort zone and wading into areas where I could quickly get out of my depth.
I was reminded of this nugatory work when Gordon Moore died on 24 March. A man with many achievements to his name, in philanthropy as well as technology, including founding Intel, he is still best known for his famous ‘law’ - ‘that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles about every two years’ – which as predictions go is considered to have done pretty well. As it happens one of the few chapters that had made any progress in my abandoned book one was on Moore and his law. His story intrigued me because his law is one of those predictions that became true because of the actions of the predictor, or at least in this case the predictor and his business partner, Robert Noyce, a charismatic figure with an apparently effortless ability to excel in anything to which he turned his mind, including sport and music as well as science.
Their strategy, first at Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation and then at Intel, helped make the prediction came true. They promised to deliver chips of ever increasing capacity at ever lower prices and did so. Companies with less confidence in their products or their market could not compete. In addition their timing at the height of the Cold War - was exquisite.
Moore was not just an observer with insider knowledge. Without Moore and Noyce the industry would have undoubtedly advanced but whether the market for microchips would have grown so rapidly is less clear. Moore’s Law worked because these two made it so, and their efforts established a target which a whole new industry strained to meet. As important, for the prediction to come true the industry needed economies of scale, and in the 1960s these were provided by America’s missile and space programmes. This is why a key feature of Moore’s Law is that it refers to a process that took place, at least in its early stages, largely in one country - the United States.
It is therefore a case study in strategy as well as prediction. So to get away from war for a moment (although not completely) here is a post on the origins of Moore’s Law and, therefore, of the digital age.
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